Fiona Sampson was born in London, and grew up in the West Country, on the west coast of Wales and in Gloucestershire. Her background in music forms an important part of her poetic voice – leaving school at sixteen to study the violin in Salzberg, Paris, Gstaad and London, she worked as a soloist and chamber musician until her mid twenties. She then took up residencies which pioneered writing in health and social care: – work for which she is now internationally recognised. She studied at the Universities of Oxford where she won the Newdigate Prize, and Nijmegen, gaining a PhD in the philosophy of language. This work led to a series of books on the writing process, from the academic – Writing: Self and Reflexivity, and Writing: Self on the Page, both with Celia Hunt – to the practical: Writing in Health and Social Care and The Healing Word.

She has been widely translated, with eight books in translation including Patuvachki Dnevnik (Travel Diary), which was awarded the 2004 Zlaten Prsten (Macedonia). Her own translations include books by Jaan Kaplinski and Amir Or. A specialist in the literatures of Eastern Europe, she co-edited A Fine Line, an anthology of young poets from Central and South-Eastern Europe, and founded and edited Orient Express (2002-5), a magazine of contemporary writing from that region. In 2005 she became the first female editor of Poetry Review for sixty years. As a critic, she contributes regularly to The Guardian, The Irish Times, The Independent, TLS and other publications.

Fiona Sampson’s second collection of poetry, Folding the Real appeared from Seren in 2001. She held a three-year Arts and Humanities Research Council/AHRC Fellowship at the Centre for modern and Contemporary Poetry, Oxford Brookes University (2002-2005) to write the dream-like verse novel The Distance Between Us, a journey through a long distance love affair. Here, distance isn’t purely geographical – the poems speak of the distances within a relationship; seeking for the truths that surface in the moments that syntax, language and even the shape of words on the page seem to dissolve. In her third collection Common Prayer, short-listed for the TS Eliot Prize in 2007, her precise and musical language meditates on the juxtaposition of everyday and inner landscapes. ‘Trumpledor Beach’, short-listed for the 2006 Forward Prize for best single poem, moves from deckchairs and coke-tins to the self’s awareness of itself, against the background sound of the sea. Sampson uses white space – varying degrees of silence to create, what she calls, “the stretched line of attention holding itself”.

Fiona Sampson has said that while she enjoyed being a professional performer, she was not a composer; poetry enables her to ‘say more.’ From 2007-2008 she held a Fellowship in Performance and Creativity at the University of Warwick to work on the relationship between poetry and music. She has also collaborated extensively with visual artists, in commissions from ACE (Southern Arts) to Ledbury Poetry Festival, and has a special interest in artists’ books. In her most recent volume of essays, On Listening, she explores how that notion is important to her in all her work, from translation and community work to editing, reviewing and writing: – since when we are not speaking, we are aware of something beyond ourselves. The recordings she has made for the Poetry Archive bear this out. Using her voice as an instrument to release the music of her lines, and the charged spaces between them, Sampson lifts her words from the score of the page and allows them to live in our heads.

This recording was made on the 13th November, 2007 at the Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.

Poems by Fiona Sampson

Drowned Man - Fiona Sampson
Hay-on-Wye - Fiona Sampson
The Plunge - Fiona Sampson
Attitudes of Prayer - Fiona Sampson
Fiona Sampson in the Poetry Store

The free tracks you can enjoy in the Poetry Archive are a selection of a poet’s work. Our catalogue store includes many more recordings which you can download to your device.

Books by Fiona Sampson


1992 Newdigate Prize

Prize website

2002 K. Blundell Trust Award

Prize website

2006 Charles Angoff Award (US)

Prize website

2006 Forward Poetry Prize (Best Single Poem) (shortlist) Trumpeldor Beach

Prize website

2007 T. S. Eliot Prize (shortlist) Common Prayer

Prize website

2009 Cholmondeley Award

Prize website

2010 Forward Poetry Collection Prize (shortlist) Rough Music

Prize website

2010 T. S. Eliot Prize (shortlist) Rough Music

Prize website

2009: elected a FRSL /Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature

Prize website

Featured in the Archive